Self-Published Titles Among the Year's Top-Sellers


Walter Isaacson nabbed the top spot on Amazon's list of best-selling titles this year, with his biography of Steve Jobs. Following Isaacson on the list were Tina Fey's Bossypants and Jaycee Dugard's A Stolen Life. Nothing too surprising there. But the story becomes interesting at the fourth slot on the list -- the top-selling fiction book published in 2011: The Mill River Recluse, a self-published title by Darcie Chan. A self-published title has outsold all other fiction books from established publishing houses on Amazon this year.

Alexandra Altar, writing in The Wall Street Journal tells the story of Chan's unlikely rise to the top:

Five years ago, Ms. Chan's novel, "The Mill River Recluse," which tells the story of a wealthy Vermont widow who bestows her fortune on town residents who barely knew her, would have languished in a drawer. A dozen publishers and more than 100 literary agents rejected it.

"Nobody was willing to take a chance," says Ms. Chan, a 37-year-old lawyer who drafts environmental legislation for the U.S. Senate. "It was too much of a publishing risk."

This past May, Ms. Chan decided to digitally publish it herself, hoping to gain a few readers and some feedback. She bought some ads on Web sites targeting e-book readers, paid for a review from Kirkus Reviews, and strategically priced her book at 99 cents to encourage readers to try it. She's now attracting bids from foreign imprints, movie studios and audio-book publishers, without selling a single copy in print.

The list of top 10 bestsellers includes another self-published novel, The Abbey, by Chris Culver.

This is not the first time that self-published titles have become bestsellers. Books such as The Elements of Style, The Joy of Cooking, and John Grisham's A Time to Kill all were born outside of the world of publishers, but they were eventually picked up by the big houses and that's how they achieved massive distribution. For a more thorough list of books that were initially self-published, see pdf here.)What's different today is not that self-publishing is available as a path to success, it's that self-publishing is a path you don't have to leave, because distribution and production are so much easier. You can take a self-published book all the way to the top of the Amazon rankings -- and to the bank.

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Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

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